BOAO - Former Japanese premier Yasuo Fukuda said he briefly met Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sunday in his capacity as chairman of an international conference, but there was no discussion of bilateral tensions.

Fukuda is serving as chairman of the Boao Forum for Asia, touted as an Asian version of the World Economic Forum in Davos. The annual Boao meeting is held on the southern Chinese island of Hainan.

Fukuda told reporters that he and other forum executives attended a meeting with Xi that lasted about 20 minutes during which discussions were focused largely on conference issues.

“It’s not the kind of place to talk just about Japan and Japan-China relations,” Fukuda said. Fukuda, the son of a former prime minister, served in the post for a year from September 2007 and has been an influential figure on the Japanese political scene.

Whereas, China is to open disputed South China Sea islands up to tourism this month, state media reported Sunday, a move likely to inflame a long-running territorial row with its neighbours.

The plans to allow tourists to visit the Paracel Islands before the May Day holiday is the latest stage in Beijing’s development of the territory, which has previously angered Vietnam and caused concern in Washington. Vietnam and China have a longstanding territorial row over the Paracel Islands. Hanoi last month accused a Chinese vessel of firing on one of its fishing boats which had sailed in disputed waters in the area.

The plan to allow cruise tours follows rapid development of infrastructure in a new city — Sansha — along with the establishment of an army garrison on one of the Paracels last year. Tourists can only visit the islands on cruise ships as the hotels and other facilities are inadequate, news agency Xinhua said, citing Tan Li, executive vice governor of the southern province of Hainan.

Fukuda praised a speech Xi made to forum participants after their meeting in which China’s new leader called for settling disputes through dialogue. Fukuda said what was needed now was for the two sides to step up diplomatic efforts. “And I think it’s a matter of how to increase trust between leaders,” he said.

Asked if his attendance at the forum could contribute to such diplomatic efforts at improving relations, Fukuda said that it was hard to know. “But in general I feel that both sides are of the mind that something needs to be done,” he added.